Home / China / Features Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read | Comment
Single-handedly Inspiring a Nation
Adjust font size:

The story of a disabled street singer who struggles to support her children touched the hearts of TV audiences, as Zhou Huanyu reports.

To many people, the stage is a star-making factory, a platform for pretty girls and handsome boys. But a plain-looking, one-armed woman has taken center stage.

Zhang Xianhui is a street singer from Lianshan Township, Guanghan in southwest China's Sichuan Province. All the locals know about the one-armed woman and her adopted twin daughters.

Aged 28, Zhang has been singing on streets for eight years. In October she participated in "Feichang 6+1," one of the popular TV singing contests covering entire China, and she won a small prize.

Zhang has returned to Mianyang in Sichuan Province after her show in Beijing. She now rents a suburban house 20 kilometers out of town and lives with her husband and her own son. Her adopted twin daughters stay with her parents and have started their studies in a middle school.

Everyday Zhang still goes downtown with her husband and their son, carrying all the outfits and sings on the street as before, but now she is recognized by more people. People call her a "special star" yet she does not approve of the title.

"I am not a star, I am just a street singer, and I sing songs only to support my family and my children's schooling." Her plan is to sing across China in the near future.

Daughters first

Zhang lost her left arm in a tractor accident at age 4. She learnt to live a normal life and can even knit sweaters.

Although disabled, Zhang has made achievements in sports. She won two bronze medals in the 6th Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled held in 1994, one in long-jump and another in 100-meter race.

After graduating from high school in 1998, she had difficulty finding a job. She met disabled street-performer Pu Hengfu who had adopted 4-year-old twin daughters. Having no other jobs, Zhang began learning singing from Pu and realized she was gifted in singing.

Together with Pu, she soon stepped on every busy street in towns nearby and later sang across lots of other cities in Sichuan Province.

Although not at all well off, Zhang took mercy on Pu's twin girls at her first glance. "It's no good for them to ramble around at such a young age!" She often brought them to her home and took care of them like her own children.

In 2002, Pu suddenly disappeared and the twin daughters became homeless. Zhang, who had already built strong attachment with the girls, decided to adopt them and give them a new home.

During a street performance in the city of Nanchong in the fall of 2000, she ran into Zhang Ronghong, a man who later became her husband. Zhang was dressed in a man's suit and wore short hair. Zhang Ronghong initially mistook her as a man and didn't realize his mistake until three days later. They got married a month later. In 2003, Zhang gave birth to their son.

Being a parent of three children, Zhang has undertaken many hardships. To make ends meet, she managed to convince her husband to quit his job at an interior decoration company and join her in street singing.

The couple cooperate well: Zhang performs and her husband controls the equipment. Although their outfits are no more than two sound boxes, a microphone, a set of CD player and a small carrying truck, they take these belongings as treasures.

"This is the song 'Flying Higher' and I hope you all like it!" With these words, Zhang did a handspring on the floor. The crowd loved it.

Singing for their supper is hard work. The couple often go out before dawn and come back late at night. To save money, they rent the remote home, which needs more than one hour's journey to get to the downtown.

Back to their humble home close to midnight after one recent performance, Zhang turned the busker's box upside down on the floor. "There's 30-plus yuan (US$4)," said Zhang to her husband. Their earnings per month vary from 500 yuan (US$62.5) to about 1,000 yuan (US$125) depending on different conditions.

Life is hard, but to Zhang's gratification, her adopted daughters and her own son are well-behaved. She seldom scolds her children, but she's rather strict with them.

Zhang used to check up the twins' assignments and ask about their school life as soon as she came back. Her children's schooling bothers her most. Zhang had thought about sending them away to a better-off family or to the orphanage, fearing that her own poverty would prevent them from a good education in future.

But when a woman came to talk about the adoption, neither of the twins was willing to go with her. "We are not rich now but I believe things will get better through our work," one said. "I want to be a doctor and I will buy a big house for mum, let her enjoy her old age."

Zhang had heard that "Dream China" (Mengxiang Zhongguo), a major singing contest across China, was holding auditions and she signed up. "I want to try because it's free to participate," she told her family around the dinner table. She had high hopes and expected one day she would win the competition, rise to fame swiftly and earn a big sum of money for her children.

The twins knew little about the singing pageant programme, but they showed great excitement about the chance to go to Beijing and appear on TV. Her husband, however, was concerned. "What if you lose?" he asked. "Try again," answered Zhang simply and straight.

Zhang passed the first round in Chengdu but she was eliminated in quarter-finals. "Your voice sounds nervous and your expressions are not professional enough," the jury commented.

Zhang thought the door to her dream had been slammed but there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Li Yong, one of the three judges and a host of "Feichang 6+1," another equivalent singing contest in China, invited her to his competition. Li said he knew about Zhang from a TV program and was so moved by her love for her daughters.

Sponsored with artistic pictures by a photo studio boss, she set out for Beijing in October and received one-week professional training before standing on the CCTV stage. "Everything seemed weird to me and it takes a long time for me to grasp all the tips," Zhang said. She went on practising in her hotel after a full day's training.

On the competing day, Zhang behaved quite well. She put on make-up for the first time ever and performed much more professionally.

She sang to the last round with a pop band, which was adored by the young. Zhang is not as young and pretty, yet audiences were deeply touched when host Li Yong told about her story.

Standing in the stage spotlight, Zhang could not hold back her tears. "I am so glad that I realized my dream and I hope my children will realize their dreams for school."

(China Daily December 19, 2006)

Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read
Pet Name
China Archives
Related >>
- Private Care Centers Give Lifeline to Chinese Mentally Disabled
- China to Shine at 9th FESPIC Games
- Survey: Disabled Population Rising
Most Viewed >>